Six migrants dead, dozens rescued off Libya coast: UN

UN says six migrants dead, dozens rescued off Libya coast
2 min read
27 June, 2020
The UN said a woman gave birth and six migrants died aboard a rubber dinghy that was rescued off Libyan shores.
The UN said rescued migrants were released after disembarking in Khoms, Libya [Getty]

A woman who gave birth at sea was among 93 migrants rescued off Libyan shores as they tried to reach Europe, but six others died along the way, the UN's migration agency said Saturday.

The survivors were brought back overnight to the port city of Khoms, 120 kilometres west of the capital Tripoli, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Twitter.

"Among them was a woman who gave birth on the rubber dinghy" that had undertaken the perilous Mediterranean crossing, it said.

"Migrants reported to IOM staff that 6 people have died along the journey," it added.

Libya was thrown into chaos after the overthrow and killing of veteran dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011.

Traffickers have exploited the unrest to turn the North African country into a key route for illicit migration towards Europe.

The situation of refugees and asylum seekers in Libya worsened after eastern Libya-based military strongman Khalifa Haftar launched an assault on Tripoli in 2019 and the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the systematic return of migrants intercepted in the Mediterranean to Libya, where they are held in crowded detention centres.

The IOM said those rescued overnight were released after disembarking in Khoms.

The latest operation came just days after French charity boat Ocean Viking, picked up dozens of migrants, including 31 Pakistanis, off the Italian island of Lampedusa after they had drifted from Libya.

Nicholas Romaniuk, who coordinated the mission aboard that vessel, said rescue ships are often out-run by the Libyan coast guard who beat them to intercept migrants and return them to Libya.

Such was the case, he said, with the overnight rescue operation, deploring the lack of coordination.

"We were about an hour and a half from being nearby" when the Libyan coast guard intervened, said Romaniuk.

"There is no coordination, no information sharing for life saving operations. We're talking about people who were reported to be dying, a newborn baby on board," he added. 

"The fact that, even in this situation, they won't share information, it's an absolute disgrace." 

The Ocean Viking, he said, was some 153 nautical miles away from the stricken boat when it received a distress signal.

More than 100,000 migrants tried to cross the Mediterranean last year with more than 1,200 dying in the attempt, according to the IOM.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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